- This was a means to prevent sites that were “top-heavy” with ads from ranking well in Google’s search results.
- Top Heavy is periodically updated.
- When a fresh Top Heavy Update happens, sites that have removed excessive ads may regain lost rankings.
- New sites deemed too “top-heavy” may get caught.
Google algorithm updates
Google has a long history of famous algorithm updates, search index changes and refreshes. Here is a timeline of major Google search algorithm updates.
Want to read our latest coverage of algorithm updates and changes? Jump to the latest algorithm update news and guides.
How many times does Google update its search algorithms?
Google search is changing all the time. In 2021, Google made more than 5,000 changes to Search. This number includes changes to its ranking system, user interface and more. Plus, Google ran more than 800,000 experiments. That means Google search is changing, on average, 13 times per day.
The history of Google algorithm updates: 2003-today
Here is a complete history of Google algorithm updates that you need to know about, in reverse chronological order.
2023 Google algorithm updates
- Google said, heading forward, its reviews system would be “improved at a regular and ongoing pace,” so they would no longer announce future updates.
- Rollout overlapped with November 2023 core update (Nov. 2).
- Involved “an improvement to a different core system” than the October 2023 core update.
- Rollout expected to take up to two weeks
- Rollout overlapped with November 2023 reviews update (Nov. 8).
- Google provided no new guidance.
- Rollout completed Oct. 19 (14 days).
- A bug negatively impacted Discover traffic.
- Rollout overlapped with October 2023 spam update (Oct. 4).
- A lot of ranking volatility during the overlapping core and spam updates.
- Improved Google’s “coverage in many languages” (including Turkish, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Hindi, Chinese) “and spam types” (cloaking, hacked, auto-generated, and scraped).
- Rollout completed Oct. 20 (15 days).
- Rollout overlapped with October 2023 core update (Oct. 5).
- Google said this update featured an “improved classifier.”
- Revisions to Google’s search documentation – including hosted third-party content, changing content dates, and adding/removing content – offered clues about what changed.
- Rollout completed Sept. 28 (14 days)
- This update was felt more within the SEO industry niche.
- Google provided no new guidance.
- Rollout completed Sept. 7 (16 days)
- The update, while big, felt muted compared to previous updates.
- This system aims to help surface relevant, expert and knowledgeable content in Google Search and Google News.
- The system looks at several signals to understand the expertise of a publication on a specific topic or location.
- Google said they have been using this system for “several years,” but this was the first time discussing it.
- Google’s “product reviews system” was changed to “reviews system.”
- Google altered the language of its guidance on product reviews to apply to all types of reviews (e.g., services, businesses, destinations, media).
- Rollout completed: April 25 (13 days)
- More volatile than the prior product reviews updates.
- Google provided no new guidance.
- Rollout completed: March 28 (13 days).
- Volatility was equal to, or greater than, prior core updates.
- Previously impacting English only, support for 10 more languages was added.
- Rollout completed: March 7 (14 days).
- More volatile than previous product reviews updates.
- This was the final product reviews update.
2022 Google Algorithm Updates
- A global update meant to neutralize any credit passed by unnatural links.
- Rollout overlapped with the helpful content system update (Dec. 6).
- Rollout completed: Jan. 12 (29 days – took longer than estimated due to the holidays).
- New signals were added to Google’s classifier.
- Launched globally, impacted all languages.
- Rollout overlapped with the link spam update (Dec. 14).
- Rollout completed: Jan. 12 (38 days, took longer than estimated due to the holidays).
- Google did not specifically say whether this update was focused on links, content or other forms of spam.
- Global update, impacted all languages.
- Rollout completed: Oct. 21 (less than 48 hours).
- Rollout overlapped with the September 2022 Core Update.
- Meant to reward English-language product reviews that were helpful and useful to searchers.
- Rollout completed: Sept. 26 (6 days).
- On Oct. 12, Google added more example categories of sites that may be impacted by the product reviews update.
- Launched three days after the helpful content update finished rolling out.
- Less significant than previous core updates.
- Rollout completed: Sept. 26 (14 days).
- Dig deeper: Google Broad Core Algorithm Updates: Everything you need to know.
- A sitewide signal meant to reward content that helps or informs people, rather than created primarily to rank well in search results.
- Google provided a list of 15 questions to ask about your content reviews to ensure you are building human-first content.
- Google said online education materials, arts and entertainment, shopping and tech-related content would be most impacted. However, the impact was mostly felt in a few categories (e.g., ringtones, coding, lyrics).
- Announced Aug. 18, it began rolling out Aug. 25.
- Rollout completed: Sept. 9 (15 days)
- Its overall impact was relatively small.
- Google was likely refreshing the algorithm (and possibly making slight adjustments) to better reward high-quality product reviews.
- Referenced the standard help document on how to write product reviews.
- Rollout completed: Aug. 4 (6 days)
- This update was not as widespread and had little ranking volatility compared to prior product review updates.
- Like past core updates, Google broadly changed how its ranking systems assessed content.
- This was the first broad core algorithm update of 2022 and the first in more than 6 months.
- Rollout completed: June 9 (15 days)
- Its impact seemed significant and more volatile than the November 2021 core update.
- Meant to help Google better identify high-quality product reviews and reward them with better rankings.
- Google added new criteria for what matters with the product reviews update (helpful in-depth details, expertise, unique information and covering comparable products).
- Google added new advice around ranked lists, recommendations of “best” products and creating reviews for multiple vs. individual products.
- Rollout completed: April 11 (19 days)
- Impact was not as widespread as prior product reviews updates.
- This update included all the signals from the mobile version of the page experience update, except for the page needing to be mobile-friendly.
- Rollout completed: March 3 (9 days)
2021 Google Algorithm Updates
- Designed to reward product reviews that shared insightful analysis and in-depth, original research.
- Google added new advice for this update on providing more multimedia “evidence” and including links to multiple sellers.
- Began rolling out a day after the November 2021 core update was completed.
- Rollout completed: Dec. 21 (20 days)
- Update was bigger than the April 2021 product reviews update and pretty volatile.
- Google said it rebalanced various factors it considered in generating local search results.
- Google didn’t confirm this update happened until Dec. 16.
- Overlapped with other ranking updates (product reviews, core update) and a Google map and local pack update design change.
- Rollout completed: Dec. 8 (9 days).
- Google reiterated its guidance on core updates.
- Rollout completed: Nov. 30 (13 days)
- The core update hit fast and hard.
- Google announced an update to its search spam detection systems.
- Google’s guidance: follow Google’s best practices for search (a.k.a., Google’s Webmaster Guidelines).
- Rollout completed: Nov. 11 (8 days)
- Google said the purpose of this update was to “nullify” spammy links across the web and multiple languages.
- Websites with spammy links were more likely to see an impact on their rankings.
- Google’s advice: follow best practices for all incoming and outgoing links.
- Rollout completed: Aug. 24 (29 days)
- This was the second of two back-to-back core updates.
- As typical of core updates, the July 2021 core update was comprehensive, changing the whole algorithm slightly, but not any specific function.
- Rollout completed: July 12 (12 days)
- This core update hit hard and fast.
- The promised sequel of its Spam Update.
- We learned that both parts of the Spam Update were “global” updates targeting web and image results.
- Google announced the release of a Spam Update to their systems and said a second was coming the following week.
- There was no additional guidance or details.
- As part of the Twitter announcement, Google referenced its Webmaster Guidelines.
- This new ranking algorithm was announced in May 2020.
- Google began using a new set of metrics – Core Web Vitals – to understand how users perceive the experience of a specific web page.
- The three Core Web Vitals metrics were Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) (measured loading performance); First Input Delay (FID) (measured interactivity); Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): (measured visual stability).
- Part of the Page Experience Update includes existing ranking signals, such as page load speed, mobile-friendliness, HTTPS and lack of intrusive ads.
- Rollout completed: Sept. 2 (79 days)
- Previewed at Google I/O in May 2021, Google’s Multitask Unified Model (MUM) is built on a transformer architecture, like BERT, but 1,000 times more powerful and capable of multitasking to connect information for users in new ways.
- It helped the search engine identify more than 800 variations of vaccine names in over 50 languages in a matter of seconds.
- In September, Google announced additional applications of MUM technology.
- This was the first of two back-to-back core updates. Google decided to release these updates separately because some of the updates they planned to roll out weren’t ready.
- Like other Google core updates, the June 2021 update was comprehensive and wide-reaching. It’s likely many sites felt the impact of this update.
- Rollout completed: June 15 (13 days)
- A mixed view of the update – when it hit the hardest, who it hit the most and the overall impact.
- The Product Reviews Update is meant to better reward product reviews that go above and beyond (e.g., by including in-depth and original research, insightful analysis). Google said it will promote these types of product reviews in its search results rankings.
- Google provided a list of nine questions to ask about your product reviews to make sure they are insightful, include original research and are written by experts or enthusiasts who know the topic well.
- Google began rolling out a change to how it ranks specific passages from a web page in search results. This update was meant to help searchers find specific “needle-in-a-haystack” information. Google said this update would impact 7% of search queries across all languages.
- Because this update was more about how Google understands your content, there was no specific advice on things to address or change, according to Google.
2020 Google Algorithm Updates
- The 2020 Core Update was the last major update of 2020 and the first major update since May of that year.
- Like all of Google’s core updates, the December 2020 core update was wide-reaching, impacting websites across all languages.
- Google announced that BERT was powering nearly all English-based search queries, a big leap from 10% it powered the year prior.
- You cannot optimize for BERT per se, as BERT is designed to improve the relevancy of search results by better understanding the content on webpages.
- Google rolled out its relatively strong May 2020 broad core algorithm update over a few weeks.
- This update was broad and comprehensive. Like other core updates, it was not targeted at any specific aspect of the algorithm.
- A relatively weak core update.
2019 Google Algorithm Updates
- Google announced its Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) update, which impacted 10% of searches. In short, BERT was created to help Google understand queries and webpage content more like how humans do.
- The September 2019 Core Update was another broad core algorithm update of the kind that Google rolls out every few months.
- The June 2019 core update covered broad aspects of Google’s algorithm and was intended to improve user experience in multiple areas.
- The March 2019 Core Update was somewhat confusing, briefly disrupting the usual equilibrium of the SEO world. The March 2019 Core Update was released without a name, giving users all across Twitter to speculate about the update and why it wasn’t named.
- Google, catching wind of the confusion, quickly jumped on social media to right the wrong. On Twitter, they wrote, “Our name of this update is March 2019 Core Update.”
2018 Google Algorithm Updates
- The August 2018 broad core algorithm update was a core update that shook up the SEO world. In this update, Google made major fixes to their algorithm that rewarded previously under-rewarded pages on the web.
- Google said there was “no fix” to any observed drop in the rankings. The ranking drops were simply due to other under-rewarded sites finally making gains.
- Google’s advice to webmasters with a ranking drop? Keep making excellent content, and you may very well see your site rise back in the rankings.
- The April 2018 core update, like other updates, was aimed at improving the end-user experience by delivering the most relevant content for search queries.
- Google didn’t announce this update and only came out with its announcement after speculation that there may have been a core update.
- The March 2018 Core Update, quickly followed by 2018’s April Core Update, was a broad and far-reaching core update meant to improve Google’s query results.
- The March 2018 Core Update had a significant impact on some sites, and webmasters who witnessed a drop in rankings were advised to continue to develop excellent content and not to try to game the system. As always, only through excellent content are durable ratings attained.
- The January 2018 Update was a comprehensive core update aimed at all aspects of the site’s SERPs. It was followed by the March and April core updates of that year.
2017 Google Algorithm Updates
- Google confirmed releasing several minor changes that were meant to improve relevancy. It seemed to negatively affect sites that were targeting huge numbers of keyword variants.
- This update made corrections to the Possum update, which had inadvertently unfairly impacted local rankings.
- The Possum Update of 2016, which we’ll get into a little more detail further down, was intended to improve SERP relevancy by eliminating redundant search results from the SERPs. To summarize, some local business owners were being eliminated by Google’s filters because their businesses were too close to other similar businesses that already ranked on Google’s SERPs.
- The Hawk Update slightly corrected the Possum update, making local businesses that competed with others that already ranked on the SERPs more likely to be seen in a relevant search query.
- An unconfirmed Google ranking update seemed to target more of the link quality aspects of the overall algorithm.
- The SEO community dubbed this update “Fred” based on a joke by Google’s Gary Illyes, who suggested that all future Google updates be called “Fred.”
2016 Google Algorithm Updates
- After nearly two years, Google updated its Penguin algorithm – and it was for the last time.
- Google announced Penguin became part of its core search algorithm, which meant data was refreshed in real-time.
- It also became more granular, meaning Penguin might impact ranking for individual pages on a site, parts of a site, or the entire site.
Possum Update (Sept. 1)
- This update affected local listings. In brief, the Possum Update was a change to the way Google’s filters work.
- What are filters? Filters for local results on Google eliminate websites that seem to be redundant. For local businesses, this can mean, for example, that if you have two websites for your service, only one of them will appear for a given local search term.
- The Possum update was intended to improve the user experience of Google, but it may have gone too far. Certain businesses that were nearby to other businesses that already ranked on Google’s SERPs saw their website drop off significantly.
Mobile-Friendly Update 2 (April 21)
- This update was more of a boost to the original Mobile-Friendly Update of 2015, a real-time, page-by-page signal that only impacts mobile search results.
- This update was meant to “increase the effect of the [mobile-friendly] ranking signal.”
January 2016 Core Update (Jan. 17)
- Major fluctuations were being observed in the search results.
- Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed it was a core ranking algorithm update.
- Following a weekend filled with ranking changes and fluctuations, Google on Jan. 12 confirmed it was due to a core ranking algorithm update.
2015 Google Algorithm Updates
- The RankBrain algorithm is powered by machine learning, processing what people search for and sorting through billions of webpages to rank the ones believed to be best first.
- Initially used on a “very large fraction” of search results, it was later rolled out and used on all Google searches.
- This was a refresh of the existing Panda algorithm.
- It impacted about 2% to 3% of English language queries.
2014 Google Algorithm Updates
Pirate Update 2 (Oct. 21)
- Google said this Panda update was supposed to be more precise and allow more high-quality small and medium-sized sites to rank better.
- It impacted about 3% to 5% of English language queries.
- Designed to provide more useful, relevant and accurate local search results that were tied more closely to traditional web search ranking signals.
- Google said that this new algorithm improves their distance and location ranking parameters.
Payday Loan Update 3.0 (June 12)
- The 27th update of Panda was supposed to be “gentler” for some websites and lay the groundwork for future changes in that direction.
- Impacted 7.5% of English queries.
Payday Loan Update 2.0 (May 16)
Page Layout 3 (aka Top Heavy 3) (Feb. 6)
2013 Google Algorithm Updates
Hummingbird (Sept. 26)
- New signals were incorporated to make Panda more finely targeted.
Multi-week Update (June 21)
Payday Loan Update (June 11)
- On March 11 at SMX, Google’s Matt Cutts said a Panda update was coming. It seemed to roll out on time as promised. However, Google never officially confirmed the rollout happened.
This Panda refresh impacted 1.2% of English queries.
2012 Google Algorithm Updates
This Panda refresh impacted 1.3% of English queries.
Panda Update 22 (Nov. 21)
Panda Update 21 (Nov. 5)
Page Layout Algorithm 2 (aka Top Heavy 2) (Oct. 9)
Panda Update 20 (Sept. 27)
- Google launched this algorithm change to prevent low-quality sites from ranking well simply because they had words that matched search terms in their domain names.
Panda Update 3.9.2 (Sept. 18)
Panda Update 3.9.1 (Aug. 20)
- This update demoted the rankings of sites that received too many DMCA takedown requests.
- It wouldn’t be until 2022 that we learned Pirate can cause up to, on average, an 89% drop in search traffic.
Panda Update 3.9 (July 24)
Panda Update 3.8 (June 25)
Panda Update 3.7 (June 8)
Panda Update 3.6 (April 27)
- The goal of this update was to decrease rankings for sites that Google believed were violating Google’s quality guidelines.
- In particular, websites that were buying links or obtaining them through link networks that were primarily designed to boost Google rankings.
Panda Update 3.5 (April 19)
Panda Update 3.4 (March 23)
Venice (Feb. 27)
Panda Update 3.3 (Feb. 27)
2011 Google Algorithm Updates
Panda Update 3.1 (Nov. 18)
Freshness Update (Nov. 3)
Panda Update 3.0 (Oct. 19)
Panda Update 2.5 (Sept. 28)
Panda Update 2.4 (Aug. 12)
Panda Update 2.3 (July 23)
Panda Update 2.2 (June 21)
Panda Update 2.1 (May 9)
Panda Update 2.0 (April 11)
Panda Update (Feb. 23)
2010 Google Algorithm Updates
Merchant Reviews (December)
Brand Update (August)
May Day (May)
2009 Google Algorithm Updates
- In late February, SEOs and webmasters started noticing big brands gaining more visibility in search results.
- On March 5, Google’s Matt Cutts confirmed the “minor change,” adding that Google’s ranking algorithm may be factoring trust, quality, PageRank, and other metrics for more generic queries.
- Cutts said it did not impact long-tail queries.
- A Googler named Vince created this change, which is how the update got its name.
2008 Google Algorithm Updates
Dewey Update (March 31)
- Some major shuffling in search results was being reported at the end of March and into early April.
- Google’s Matt Cutts asked webmasters for feedback on the changes via a form and to include the word “dewey” in their feedback, giving this update a name.
2007 Google Algorithm Updates
- Google confirmed they were lowering PageRank scores for some sites that were selling links.
- Google also said that some of those sites could be removed from its search results or be given penalties that prevent them from ranking well.
- Google’s PageRank Update Goes After Paid Links? (Oct. 24) documented multiple sites that were impacted.
2005 Google Algorithm Updates
2004 Google Algorithm Updates
- This is considered to be a continuation of the work Google started with Florida, aimed at producing more relevant search results.
- Websites impacted by this update were using on-page SEO tactics that, at the time, had worked quite well (but today are considered spammy, outdated practices).
2003 Google Algorithm Updates
- Florida was the first major Google algorithm update and it caused a huge outcry.
- Google’s goal was to make it harder for websites to rank well using manipulative SEO techniques.
- Unfortunately, this update drove many websites out of business (including some “false positives”) right before the lucrative holiday season.
- After this update, Google promised it would try to avoid rolling out major changes around the holidays (a promise that remained unbroken until 2011).
- This is the update when Google switched to indexing pages every day (or more often) instead of doing one large monthly algorithmic update (called the “Google Dance “), where everyone’s rankings would increase or decrease over a period of six to eight days.
- From this point onward, Google made many (typically minor) changes every day, which came to be known as “everflux.”
Data providers: Google November 2023 core update was more volatile than the October 2023 core update
Keep in mind, the November 2023 Reviews update overlapped with this core update and is still rolling out.
Google will surface personal insights and experiences from social media blog posts and forums. This is not an updated helpful content update.
Overall, the tools did not show as much volatility with the helpful content update than it did with core updates - but this was a big update.
Gary Illyes from Google said this was just a change made to the documentation and was not implemented in its algorithms yet.
Google’s April 2023 reviews update was more volatile than the previous product reviews update, data providers say
This update was more widespread than previous updates because it targets more than just product reviews.
Here's what SEOs need to know about Google's Penguin algorithm update, plus Search Engine Land's coverage of Penguin from 2012 to 2021.
Page experience is important for your users and usability, but it never seemed all that important for rankings.